- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published October 10, 2013
After promising improvement on offense, a new-look Wolverines squad delivered with a lopsided 42-13 win over Minnesota last weekend. In order to remain undefeated, Michigan will need to find more ways to move the ball against one of the best defenses they have faced this season, in the most hostile environment they will have entered — Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
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The Nittany Lions have won the last two meetings in State College, and the last three overall. Before that, though, Michigan had won nine in a row. To prepare for the unfriendly environment, the Wolverines’ offense spent Tuesday’s practice by speaking in whispers to simulate how difficult it will be to hear over the crowd.
Michigan’s offense made serious progress against the Golden Gophers, spurred by several changes, both tactical and personnel-related.
First, and most notably, sophomore tight end Devin Funchess spent significantly more time than usual split out wide. His size — Funchess stands at 6-foot-5 — allowed him to exploit mismatches against the Minnesota secondary as he exploded for a career-high 151 receiving yards.
“His role is expanded a little bit,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges on Tuesday. “But it’s still pretty much in line with what we’ve been trying to do with him since he’s been here.”
Whether Funchess will continue to be on the outside, return to his usual tight end position or line up behind the line of scrimmage in what Michigan calls the ‘H’ position remains to be seen. But Funchess figures to have a significant height advantage over the Nittany Lions secondary as well, which could mean a similar role for him this week.
Likewise, the offensive line combination strung together over the bye week — with redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant entering the mix at guard, and redshirt junior Graham Glasgow sliding over the center to replace redshirt junior Jack Miller — appeared to be a step in the right direction. Borges said Bryant “had some first start stuff that I think any guys would experience, but he played hard.”
It seems likely that the offensive line will remain the same this weekend, hoping to finally spring fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to his first 100-yard rushing game.
Another way the offense will look to test Penn State’s defense, particularly its always-solid linebacking corps, is with freshman tailback Derrick Green. After eating clock in the season opener against Central Michigan, Green received some meaningful carries against Minnesota, especially early in the game before the outcome had been decided.
The coaching staff would love to be able to mix in Green to keep Toussaint as fresh as possible. How he fares early against Penn State could determine he continues to carry the ball late in the game if it’s close.
“Here’s the deal with that: when you have a young back, you’re going to play him earlier if you’re going to play him,” Borges said. “If the game’s close, you’re going to get scared.”
Saturday could mark the 2013 debut of redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in spring practice. The status of Ryan, who is likely the team’s best defensive player, remains questionable, and Hoke said a decision might not come until Saturday.